Roboticized: As we automate, are we going about it right?

Someone once posited that with the advent of personal computing our society would become paperless.

Well, not only did that not happen but we seem nowhere near that prospect coming true.

In a related vein, the draft for the article you are now reading, I composed with pen and paper prior to my transferring it to the platform where it can be and was uploaded to the Air Quality Matters blog site. For me, this is standard operating procedure and, it should be noted, I recycle the paper I write on but not before both front and back sides are are thoroughly written upon. Anything less and, as I see it, valuable space is wasted.

A dying process or art this practice could well become, that is, if automation does ultimately result in paper’s use in this fashion going the way of the dinosaur.

Automation definitely has its advantages. In becoming automatized the potential exists for money to be saved.

Take farming for example. For years, humans worked in the fields doing chores like planting, watering, picking/harvesting, etc. thereby facilitating crop-growing. But, lately, the tide is turning and more and more of the farm responsibilities people once handled, are now being carried out automatically, meaning automatic mechanical means are filling in, in their place. That’s becoming the reality as the  labor pool thins.

When I published my book, I made the conscious decision to do this digitally. From what I remember, there was no up-front fee required, printing-press processes were unneeded, neither trees were felled for paper-making nor ink sprayed for printed-page creation, all that would have been necessary that, plus the stitching involved, to bring the hardcopy book to life, this in addition to the packaging, handling and delivery responsibilities that it would have taken to take care of the distribution aspect. Much time, money and steps were saved.

These are but two examples.

Word is, artificial intelligence (AI) is making its presence felt, and it’s being relied upon more and more heavily as more and more businesses turn to this capability to help get the work done that needs getting done.

There is nowhere I go that it seems I do not see AI in action. There is self-service and self check-out in retail, grocery, banking, you name it. Amazingly, I now see where artificial intelligence possesses the capability to do, at least, some of the independent work students could and – most likely – should themselves be doing.

You may visit a restaurant only to find your waitress or waiter has been replaced by a ‘bot (short for robot). Though novel, it is a bit impersonal. I’m sure the kids get a kick out of it as it keeps them entertained.

In looking ahead, who knows?!, perhaps there could come a day when not all in-person doctor visits will be necessary. According to what I heard recently, there could be a way where you have your 3-D image “beamed” into the doctor’s office, with the doctor’s projected into your living space, this accompanied by a digitally facilitated back-and-forth conversation between you and the doc. I’m probably getting too far ahead of myself, but, you just never know. Such capability could render some car trips unnecessary. Already there are wheeled and motorized autonomous devices that can deliver packages, prescription drugs and food items right to your front door.

The thinking behind this being that automation is going to make life simpler, as tempting as that may sound, what could wind up happening is the opposite occurring when tested under real-world conditions.

Then there is the realization that maybe we haven’t looked hard enough at the electrical, energy, power-requirement side of the equation. Or, that breakdowns or mechanical and/or electrical issues may suddenly surface in the midst of operation.

In elaborating, power supply can only be accomplished in the following two ways: self-contained battery-pack power and fixed (meaning remaining in place) electrical supply-line hookup. In certain circumstances, the source supply could be generated non-renewably, but in such cases, that would contribute to more pollution entering the air.

As for the battery-pack deal, batteries require assembling and need regular recharging, the latter taking electricity enabled by the provisions that allow that process.

Meanwhile, robots that are tasked with one specific duty and remain in one place (like the type you might see in a car-assembly plant) must likewise be fed a steady supply of juice, through fixed hardware like through the electrical line or via a battery.

With regard to the breakdown or failure issue, there must be a qualified technician at the ready equipped with the proper tools and/or parts to make the necessary repairs. In the case of mobile equipment breakdown, a backup unit at the ready could be all that’s needed to once again get the service up and running. The two units in question would have to be swapped – the second filling in for the first.

Depending on what the requirement is to keep all of the devices operating, such could put a damper on electricity supply infrastructure, and, depending on how the electricity needed is generated, this could have a negative environmental impact. And, that could be detrimental to the surrounding air.

It’s possible that in our effort to automate our lives fully or otherwise which, on the surface, might seem like a good thing, the intent here with the aim to help thwart the effects of climate change, such may wind up making said matters worse if we move too quickly and not have a mitigating action plan in place already, which basically translates into not thinking through the particulars of the plan carefully enough.

On the other hand, if proper care and consideration are taken beforehand, and everything, if in implementing said plan all falls in place and everything – and I mean everything – goes according to plan, such could indeed be what the doctor ordered. Which, should that happen, this would be the saving grace.

– Alan Kandel

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